Monday, 3 November 2008

Wednesday October 29th

For my wife, Wednesday was the third day in the half-term, week-long break from teaching. As we had so far done nothing together of any consequence, we had decided on Tuesday night that we would do 'something' on Wednesday. At first we had tentatively planned a trip to West Wales, staying at a Bed And Breakfast establishment in the Tenby area. By Wednesday morning this had turned into a day-trip to Southerndown, with maybe a wonderful pub lunch in the Plough and Harrow at Marcross. As noon approached, my enthusiasm to do anything other than 'watch a DVD together' was waning. At midday we decided on a compromise, a romantic walk on the beach. In Barry.

Barry Island was once a Mecca for the Welsh day-tripper. Not in the sense that non-Muslims would be publicly beheaded if they were found there, or that women were not welcome, but inasmuch as a lot of day-trippers visited it. With the decline of the coal industry, and specifically the Miner's Fortnight, numbers dwindled drastically. That said, the small numbers who came after the pits closed, no longer had to swim in slurry. Just a cocktail of sea-water, sewage and sanitary towels.

In the last ten years or so Barry has made great strides. The beaches of my home town now proudly fly the Blue Flag, which mean that the water is now relatively clean, and the sand is litter free. Granted, danger and litter can both easily still be found within very short distance from the beach, but the seaside itself has been transformed.

My wife and I parked the Micra near the promenade, and I was careful to be seen to pretend to lock the door as Barry is a car crime hot spot. As we walked along the promenade we passed the newly-built crazy golf course, and I admit that I was impressed. Whereas I find the whole concept of crazy golf decidedly odd (as opposed to crazy), Barry Town Council has created that sport's equivalent of The Augusta National. Two youngsters on the course were approaching the hole with the big cannon and the pirate climbing up a mast (lamp-post), and became involved in an altercation with each other. A concerned woman, who was either their grandmother, or their artificially-inseminated mother, called out, after sucking hard on a cigarette,

'You pair get outside now!'

The confused pair looked at each other, before one pointed out,

'We are outside now.'

She looked up for confirmation, before asserting

'You know what I mean!'

They didn't, but her stare patently meant, 'Cut it out, or this will be the last time that I spend any of my dishonestly claimed compensation money on you'.

As we stepped onto the beach I looked around. There were about twelve other people on the sand braving the arctic conditions, similarly determined to enjoy themselves. I felt one of my patriotic moments coming on. British foolhardiness is a constant source of joy to me. It was around zero degrees Celsius, with gale-force winds, and the fourteen of us on the beach, the throngs eating chips on the promenade and the common family playing crazy golf (outside) had obviously all come to the same conclusion. All of us, at some point that morning, thought that a trip to the seaside would be a good idea.

What hope had Hitler? If the British had been on the Eastern Front in 1942 they would have pushed North towards the sea, for a quick swim and a hastily-arranged Pantomime, before pressing on towards Stalingrad, whilst singing a song about frostbite and hypothermia, accompanied, no doubt, by the company ukulele player, 'Fingerless' Freddy Johnson.

After enjoying the Siberian conditions or around twenty minutes, my bladder had shrunk to the size of a small tangerine. I was desperate for the toilet, although not desperate enough to use the Barry Island public facilities. I had no intention of making small talk with a grinning simpleton about how the cold had reduced his penis size, as I had had to do during a previous visit to these facilities. As such we walked back to the Micra, pretended to unlock it, and got in. As we were leaving Barry Island we passed the Log Flume sign. I found myself hoping that the Crazy Golf would not go the way of Barry's Log Flume, Jungle Boat and Ghost Train.

The Log Flume had been a spectacular addition to the fairground in the early 1980s. By the 1990s the passage of time had bleached the fibreglass, rock-coloured, 'rocks' . Rather than invest in rock coloured paint, the owners decided to leave the rocks a slightly less realistic 'fibre-glassy' colour. During one hot summer, evaporation, coupled with an unwillingness by the management to buy extra water, resulted in one's 'Log' careering through a canyon, carved through bright yellow rock, before plunging down a waterless waterfall into a 'river' that looked, for all the world, like roller coaster tracks.

The Jungle Boat was installed before the Log Flume, but enjoyed a similar lack of funding. As one's 'Boat' travelled through the 'Jungle' a series of frightening scenes from nature were played out. At one point a hippo reared out of the water to roar at the enchanted children. Or it would have, had the motors and sound-making apparatus worked. As they did not, a large, slightly yellow hippo, lay, and remained, partially submerged, as bored children travelled past it, untroubled. Just past the hippo was a man escaping up a tree from a hungry lion. Again some of the realism was lacking, as the lion was also inert. As for the man, whilst he may have been 'climbing' the 'tree', he clearly belonged to the species Homo Meccano, his clothing have long-since disintegrated, revealing his hinged, metal limbs.

The Ghost Train though, was my favourite. There is nothing as scary as waiting for something scary to happen. That anticipation of fright, that is the hallmark of the best directors in the Horror film genre. Barry Island Funfair applied that principle to their Ghost Train. But unlike those film directors, who adhere to 'norms' and eventually reveal what it is we fear most, the Barry Island Ghost Train delivered 100% anticipation. Aside from becoming dark for around two minutes, nothing happened at all! Not one thing! I'm sure that when the ride was first installed there were any number of gimmicks, but as, one-by-one, they failed and were not replaced, a unique experience was accidentally created. One would sit on one's seat, eyes squinting, shoulders hunched, maybe clutching a loved one's hand, waiting for something, anything to happen. And then, and then....out of the doors, and back into the sunlight, before coming to a stop. On disembarking, everyone resolved not to spoil the 'surprise' for the next train-load.

After calling at my mother's to urinate, we drove home.

That night on the left hand side of the big sofa, I became convinced that the cold in my fingers was due to an impending cardiac arrest. I put my T-Shirt over my nose and breathed deeply, until my panic attack subsided, as my doctor had advised me following my first false alarm. I then took half an aspirin, just in case, ate two indigestion tablets and went to bed.

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